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Seafood LTOs net unlimited profit potential

Boosting seafood sales with menu specials and savvy marketing

LTOs are the lifeblood of restaurant operations, particularly in the hyper-competitive chain marketplace. They can be especially effective with seafood, as a means of encouraging patrons to try new fish and shellfish specialties.

In addition to building sales, buzzworthy promotions of all kinds serve as a vehicle for news and social media outreach, attracting new customers and reminding existing ones to visit again. LTOs can also be used to introduce new flavors and ingredients, showcase seasonality, kick off new pricing models and keep staff engaged.

Supported by careful tracking and analytics, LTOs also function as a valuable way to test new additions to the core menu. In fact, many top-selling menu items started as specials that won a place in patrons’ hearts.  It’s not surprising, then, that so many forward-thinking operators develop a regular calendar of four to six LTOs a year.

What does it take to launch a memorable seafood menu special? Technomic’s MenuMonitor tracked seafood LTOs1 that were available during the third quarter of this year to find the five most buzzed-about offers, opening a window into what works.

#1 Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, $4.99 Southern-Style Fish Tenders Meal (49% of consumers reported they’d be likely or very likely to purchase): Taking the popularity of chicken tenders to new places, the Nashville-based fast casual borrowed cornmeal-dusted fish tenders from its kids menu and family meals to create the popular LTO. The item highlighted Captain D’s commitment to sustainability-minded seafood expertise.

#2 Outback Steakhouse, Crispy Lobster & Shrimp Bites (47.6%): The limited-time appetizer (bite-size shrimp and lobster, hand-breaded and tossed with green onions, cilantro and jalapeños and served with chili lime dipping sauce) was part of the steakhouse chain’s returning Steak and Lobster promotional focus.

#3 P.J. Whelihan’s Pub & Restaurant, Tex Mex Grilled Shrimp Salad (45%): This small regional chain, which specializes in wings and other pub fare, bolstered its lighter summertime lineup with an on-trend entree salad featuring grilled shrimp over greens tossed with lemon barbecue dressing and topped with corn, avocado, black beans, quinoa, bell peppers and queso fresca.

#4 Red Lobster, Crab Linguini Alfredo (44.6%): Available in both lunch- and dinner-size portions, this popular specialty of crabmeat in a creamy garlic Parmesan sauce has appeared previously during Red Lobster’s annual summertime Crabfest promotion, which celebrates wild-caught crab with multiple new and existing menu items. This menu item serves as an extension of the seafood chain’s Shrimp Linguini Alfredo menu stalwart.

#5 Red Lobster, Crab Melt Sandwich (40.6%): A dual-purpose entrant in the chain’s concurrent Crabfest and Seafood Lover’s Lunch: for $9.99, customers could choose from three entrees—the Crab Melt Sandwich, a half lobster and Langostino Pizza, or the Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms, each served with a cup of soup or a side salad and unlimited cheddar bay biscuits.

For operators who want to include seafood in their LTO strategies, some basic tips apply:

  • Address gaps in the existing menu, such as finger foods or sandwiches.
  • Look for operational ease by cross-utilizing SKUs.
  • Highlight seasonality and sustainability.
  • Answer customer demand for sustainable seafood choices.
  • Pay attention to the marketing component as well as menu R&D, including social media.


1These LTO menu items were monitored by MenuMonitor in August and September of 2017. Consumers were shown a non-branded list of food items (so that the brand wouldn’t sway opinion) and ranked them from “very likely to purchase” to “very unlikely to purchase.” The top five seafood LTOs this past quarter were determined by those that respondents most indicated they would be likely or very likely to purchase. 

This post is sponsored by High Liner Foods

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